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Power Surge

By Larry Gross · September 25th, 2008 · Living Out Loud

I moved to Westwood this past spring, and I like it just fine. That feeling didn’t change on Sept. 14, when the electric power went off. As of this writing, it’s still off. I guess we have Hurricane Ike to thank. The weather on that Sunday was like something I’ve never seen before — very little rain, mostly sunshine and high winds that could knock a person down. It caught everyone by surprise.

Not having electricity for this extended period of time has been a bit surreal for me, but unlike others I’ve talked to this past week I don’t find myself feeling angry or depressed about it. I don’t get upset about things I can’t control.

On Tuesday morning, I threw away my rotten food. I went to Walgreen’s and got a small cooler to keep my insulin in. A diabetic needs his insulin.

For the past several days, my meals have consisted of canned tuna or salmon, wheat bread, low-fat peanut butter and reduced fat Cheez-It crackers. Sometimes I’ll throw in an apple for dessert.

I’m handwriting this column by candlelight on a Wednesday night. It’s due tomorrow. I’ll haul myself into CityBeat sometime that morning along with my laptop and transcribe my words into a word document. I’ll see if I can make my Thursday deadline.

Maybe my editor will give me an extension on the deadline. It’s been an unusual past few days. Clearly he’ll understand that. I’d like to blame Duke Energy for being without power for the past several days, but that would be a cheap shot. I know they’ve been working around the clock to get electric back on for all of us — even those of us tucked away in Westwood.

I won’t be giving you the names of any of the streets where I live, because most of us who live here like the fact we’re kind of a hidden community. You’re not going to find us unless you’re looking for us. When those high winds hit, we might have been left without electricity, but there was a power surge of people in our little neighborhood wanting to help one another.

Just up the street from me lives a UC professor, an older man with longish white hair. The huge maple tree in his front yard collapsed during the high winds right into the street.

There wasn’t much we could do about the tree blocking the street, since it was leaning against power lines, but we helped the professor clean up all the tree limbs in his yard along with the shingles that had fallen off his roof. A street over, another tree also fell and blocked the street. This one wasn’t touching power lines, and neighbors took chain saws and chopped up the big tree. After several hours, the street was clear.

The neighbors who helped were excited about their accomplishment. A young woman who helped took pictures of the cleanup with her cell phone. She was anxious to show me the photos.

On Tuesday morning, I went for a walk and saw a young man cleaning up a massive amount of debris in front of a large house. “The couple who live here are older,” he said. “They’re my friends and neighbors, and I want to help them.” I’ve always considered this neighborhood friendly, but it’s gotten even friendlier since those high winds. Maybe with the electric being off, with no TV to watch and little else to do, it’s forced us to talk to one another more. Since moving to Westwood, I’ve become known as that “CityBeat guy with the flashlight.”

I always take public transportation wherever I go and often get home late at night — thus the flashlight. When I get home late, that flashlight and I get the dogs in the neighborhood to barking.

Sometimes I’ll stop and talk to people walking their dogs or sitting on their front porches. With the lights being out, more and more people are outside at night, and it’s fun to listen to the exchange between various families as I make my way home. Somehow it gives me a sense of security.

Now with the neighborhood even darker at night, I’ve met neighbors I knew were there but are letting their presence known a bit more. A few nights ago as I walking up my street around 10, a couple of raccoons were hanging out by the sidewalk. They didn’t move as I shined my flashlight into their faces.

As I passed them, I said, “Hello, boys.” They just stood there and let me by. Last night, in almost the exact same spot, I had to stare down a big old possum. The thing was right in the middle of the sidewalk.

The possum stared at me for what seemed like several minutes. I finally laughed, which scared it, and it took off running. I was still laughing when I reached my apartment.

As the electricity comes back on, things will return to normal in Westwood. I’m more than ready for it to happen, but I’ll miss those more frequent exchanges with my neighbors.

Maybe it takes a power outage to make a power surge — a surge of community and togetherness.

CONTACT LARRY GROSS: lgross@citybeat.com



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